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Why Posing Guides are Bad for Your Photos

In the last several years, there has been a proliferation of posing guides for portrait photos. There are even several apps that allow you to search for different poses. Personally, I think that overuse of posing guides can be bad for your photos in the long run.

posing guides are bad for photography

Looking at these poses featured above, do you really think that they all work for every couple?

And if you are going to say, “Well, people would know when not to use poses that don’t work!” I can direct you to several photography forums where that statement is proven wrong on a regular basis.

Photographers who are just starting out and those who appear to have some experience fall victim to using their ‘favorite pose‘ or one of the ‘best poses’ and then wonder why it just didn’t work.

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Why are posing guides bad for your photos?

Just like anything else that you come to rely on too much, posing guides can be a crutch that keep your from really understanding what you need to do to create a better photo.

The more you lean on lists of poses, the more comfortable you get using them. Photographers often complain about novices using ‘auto’ modes on their cameras, but I would argue that consistently using posing guides is not much different.

Why? You’re letting someone else do the work, and, unlike your camera that is processing whatever photo you’re taking at the moment, that person isn’t even looking at the picture you’re taking.

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Poses just don’t work for every person, couple, or group of people.

And if the people you’re photographing aren’t models or are just self-conscious about being photographed, poses can make them feel like mannequins. I don’t know about you, but you can watch a subject’s eyes glaze over really quickly if all you do is tell them where and how to stand.

Lack of Creativity

With all of these ‘posing guides’ floating around using all of the same poses, every photographer’s shots start to look the same.

posing guides are bad for your photos

And with more people using these same handful of poses over and over and over, photos become very stale. While voting the last few years in the Shoot & Share photo contest, there were numerous times where four photos would pop up all with the exact same pose.

posing guides bad for your photos

The photography market is saturated enough as it is. Do you really want all of your photos to look the same as any other photographer a potential client might want to hire?

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How to Bring Your Photo Subjects to Life and Create Better Photos

Want to make your photo subjects feel alive? Then ditch the posing guides and do the following:

Learn the Basics of Posing

You don’t need to have a guide with hundreds of different poses for every occasion. Besides, looking through a book or your phone for a list of poses while you’re on a shoot can make you look unprofessional.

Once you know the basic principles of posing, you will know what to do whether you’re dealing with one person, a couple, or a large group. You also won’t need to reference some guide to tell your subjects what to do.

Click here to check out our guide to the four basic principles of posing!

Build a Rapport With Your Subjects

To truly ‘capture’ your subject, you need to know them. The more you know about someone you’re photographing, the easier it is to get them to open up, either by bringing up activities or subjects of conversation that will interest them OR just knowing what to say that will elicit a reaction.

Take the time to get to know your subjects. It doesn’t have to take hours. I always reach out to my clients before any session with a questionnaire that helps me get to know more about them.

This way I know what movies and music they like, where they like to travel, etc. – all of this information influences how I act when I am photographing them. I can use it to make them feel more relaxed and comfortable and build a rapport so that they trust me.

Want to get to know your subjects better? Ask them questions! Don’t know which questions to ask? Check out our ‘getting to know you’ questionnaire! It’s easily customizable to any situation.

Photograph Genuine Reactions

In the same way that you can tell a smile is fake, or that someone is posing, you can also feel that a reaction is genuine or real when you look at a picture.

Throughout my twenty plus years as a photographer, it has always been the photos of genuine reactions that get the most positive response both from my clients and viewers in general.

Create Engaging Photos by Prompting, Not Posing!

I’ve been photographing people for 20 years, and, over that time, I have learned that you get more genuine photos when your subjects are actively engaged.

Whether they are engaged with you or with each other (in the case of couples or groups), their focus is key. When your subjects focus on thinking about a topic or performing an activity, they are no longer thinking about having their picture taken.

Their reactions automatically become more natural! So, if you want to create engaging photos you have to engage your subjects.

Prompts can range from asking your subject to think about something in particular or having them perform a simple task to more complex prompts that involve planting a ‘seed’ hours ahead of time (in the case of some wedding day prompts).

Over the last two decades, I’ve put together an impressive list of prompts that get great reactions.

Want to learn more about prompts? I will be posting videos to my Facebook and Instagram accounts discussing how to use prompts.

If you’d like to use some of the prompts I have put together over the years, you can learn more about them by clicking here. they are available for purchase in our online store! Whether you photograph senior portraits, headshots, weddings, couples, families, etc. – there are prompts that can help you create more authentic images.

Do You Pose or Prompt?

Which do you use, poses or prompts? Why? Let us know in the comment section or on our social media!!!

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The Nerdy Photographer
The Nerdy Photographer

With more than a quarter century as a professional photographer, The Nerdy Photographer's goal is to spread knowledge and laughter throughout the photo industry. Please follow along on social media and subscribe to the podcast.

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